Opposition to free expression, a belief that in a Judge’s right to determine what is and isn’t acceptable, the promotion of racial politics and standing up against giving the public the right to have a say on same-sex marriage- a censorious puritan, perhaps? No, this is comedian Corinne Grant who, when faced with a choice between free expression and the censorious establishment, gives the establishment a free kick.
‘The line between speech and action is not that clear cut,’ Corinne Grant said when she appeared on Q&A recently. She went on to defend the decision by Justice Mordecai Bromberg to fine columnist Andrew Bolt under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for an article Bolt wrote about white people claiming to be indigenous, saying that Bolt’s comments were ‘incorrect’.
Incorrect comments, so that justifies getting the law involved? How many jokes has Corinne Grant told that some corners of society would deem ‘incorrect?’ It’s a far cry from the free expression championed by Lenny Bruce. Where Bruce fought to break down barriers by robbing racial slurs like ‘nigger’ of their meaning, the Corinne Grant’s of the world do the opposite by actively endorsing a state-sponsored outrage industry which governments reinforce through ‘hate speech’ legislation.
To be a comedian once meant being mutinous to the status quo. As a profession that gets its historical lineage from the courtroom jester, comedy has always been built on the concept of expression and comedians from the Middle Ages to Doug Stanhope have stood firmly on the side of free expression.
As any free speech advocate would tell you, support for free speech means nothing unless you equally support the rights of those whom you disagree with. A good litmus test for this is the Australian same-sex marriage plebiscite next year.
To an outsider, it might appear that it is the Left that are pushing for the government to at last put it to the people amidst conservative opposition. Instead it’s the opposite. The Australian Christian Lobby have welcomed a public vote and the opportunity to air their opinion while Equal Marriage Rights Australia is steadfastly opposed to a plebiscite.
Where then do the comedians who were once paragons of progress stand? Corinne Grant said on the aforementioned Q&A episode that a plebiscite on marriage equality was ‘an excuse for a very, very small minority of Australians to engage in cruel and hurtful behaviour under the guise of calling it debate.’
Well isn’t that a novel argument? Let’s not put it to a vote, because the other side will argue against it.
This sentiment is common amongst Australian comedians. Hannah Gadsby, a Tasmanian, spoke out against subjecting young people to the same harsh debate that was aired when she was growing up in the nineties, when her state was the last to decriminalise homosexuality. In her own words, ‘The reason I care about this is because I don’t want young kids to hear the kind of horrific bile I was forced to listen to in the 1990s when Tasmania debated on whether to legalise homosexuality.’
So she doesn’t want young people to be subjected to the same vociferous democratic debate that smashed bigotry and allowed her to be accepted under the law for who she is? It’s quite astounding.
Just imagine for example if the abolitionists had this view. ‘We need equal rights but first, we must protect ourselves from hurtful opposition.’ What about the suffragettes? ‘Taking a stand for justice could result in an unfavourable outcome. It’s much better if we lay low and wait for change to come from the top down.’ How about anti-Vietnam War campaigners? ‘We oppose the war but we are concerned that having a debate could lead to veterans being exposed to triggering opinions. Protect feelings first, then we will protect lives.’ This isn’t progressivism, this is paternalism with a Left that condescendingly believes that minorities can’t handle the same rigorous debate that has been the engine of all social progress.
Then there’s the obsession with identity politics which would have appalled comedic legends such as Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Speaking of his trip to Africa, Pryor said that he didn’t see black or white, he saw ‘all types of people.’ George Carlin likewise said ‘I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American.’
Compare that to today’s identity-politics-perpetuating comedians and the contrast is stark. Wil Anderson, who once hosted the ‘Glasshouse’ (which brought him and Corinne Grant into the spotlight), wrote on Twitter on the 23rd of August: ‘It amazes me as someone who can legally get married that the PM thinks I can vote to deny others that right.’
In what is eerily similar to how we would chant ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive you’ at mass when I was growing up, today’s privileged, cultural elite humble themselves by bringing up that they are part of the privileged strata of society. This allows them to show that they are empathetic and compassionate to the plights of the disadvantaged. It doesn’t however stop them from using a person’s race and/or gender against them should they disagree with the progressive narrative. Don’t believe in abortion? ‘What right do you as a white male have to tell a woman what to do with her body?’ said the ‘enlightened’ male to the ‘non-enlightened’ male. Believe that Australia is fundamentally not a racist country? ‘What would you know? You’re white,’ said one white man to another white man. Just like a conservative in the 1930s might tell a woman that discussion of economics was out of her depth due to her not being in the workforce, today’s Left say that privileged people cannot comment on issues of oppression due to a lack of lived experience.
The original subject, Corinne Grant is currently retraining as a lawyer. Ironically, one tweeter on Q&A said (and I paraphrase) ‘Under Section 18C there will be less comedians and more lawyers.’ Perhaps that does not bother these comedians. They have already made it and now they attack the free society that allowed them to be who they are. It’s a shame really, because in a divided society with ever-changing social and cultural values we need comedians more than ever to shine a light on the absurdities in the world. Perhaps we should look elsewhere.
Tim O’Hare is a Brisbane-based History graduate from the University of Queensland and former stand-up comedian. He has been published in Quadrant, Online Opinion and Menzies House with specific interest in politics, arts and culture and how they intersect.